Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A gender diversity audit of the New Statesman's home page

Disclaimer this post is not an attack on the New Statesman as i v enjoy that site & its coverage of feminist issues. It was prompted by a reader's comment about how it over-represents women's issues, which I also read as over representing women's voices and experiences.

Last week, some of you may know that the New Statesman dedicated some time to talking about men.


Unfortunately interesting articles about masculinity and men's roles were hijacked in the comments by MRA types. But it was one comment in particular on the linked article above that caught my eye. It was from one Robert Taggart and said:

'This all makes an interesting change...
From talking about Women and their interminable 'problems' !'

Hmm, I thought. Does the New Statesman really spend all that much time talking about women and our interminable problems? And what are our interminable problems? Male violence against women and girls? Gendered nature of poverty? Cultural femicide? I mean, they're quite serious problems and although they get an airing on the New Statesman I wouldn't say the content was overwhelmingly biased to these issues.

But you know me - never one to trust a hunch. So I've spent a productive evening going through every single article featured on the New Statesman home page just to see how much space is given to women, and our interminable problems.

This isn't an attack on the New Statesman. It was just prompted by that comment. I read the website a lot and love the blogs.

Here are a few points to understand about my quick audit.

I came up with the following categories to measure gender diversity:

About 'women's problems' written by woman/women
About women's problems wrtten by man/men
About 'men's problems' writen my women/woman
About men's problems written by man/men
About non gendered issues, written by man/men
About non gendered issues, written by woman/women
About non gendered issues but focus is on man/men
About non gendered issues but focus is on woman/women
Article is illustrated by man/men
Article is illustrated by women/woman
Article is not illustrated
Article quotes men/man
Article quotes women/woman
Article is illustrated by mix of people or no people
Men and women are quoted in the article
There are no quotes in the article
The article doesn't focus on men or women/man or woman
No named author
No named quotes

I then looked at every article featured on the New Statesman home page at 7pm on Tuesday 29th May. If an article was linked to twice I only counted it once. There may be some errors where I forgot to count a 'no quotes' or 'no illustration'. Easy to miss!

I measured my categories as follows:

In the women's problems section I included: sex industry, representation of women, VAWG, women's poverty, child care, gender pay gap, feminism, women in conflict, women's health

In the men's problems section I included: masculinity, men's rights, health, men's unemployment, paternal rights, violence against men, representation of men

I counted as non gendered issues: economy, Leveson, global warming, Jewish history, UK politics, global politics, reviews, crime, migration issues, science and tech, business news,media, world affairs.

People who the article could be focusing on included: politicians, media types, judges, leaders, film directors, writers, scientists, business leaders, musician or other cultural types, interviewee who is a member of the public

So! What were the results?

Well, unsurprisingly, Robert Taggart's belief that the New Statesman talks too much about women wasn't true. Although none of the home page articles actually talked about men's problems specifically, men were dominant as writers, as quoted sources, as topic of the article and most articles were illustrated by men. Of the few articles illustrated by women one of them was a group of Playboy bunnies. No men were pictured in a sexualised manner needless to say!


About 'women's problems' written by woman/women                2     
About women's problems wrtten by man/men                           0
About 'men's problems' writen my women/woman                    0
About men's problems written by man/men                               0
About non gendered issues, written by man/men                      43     
About non gendered issues, written by woman/women            21     
About non gendered issues but focus is on man/men               38     
About non gendered issues but focus is on woman/women       9     
Article is illustrated by man/men                                             31     
Article is illustrated by women/woman                                   10     
Article is not illustrated                                                           4     
Article quotes men/man                                                        35     
Article quotes women/woman                                               11     
Article is illustrated by mix of people or no people                 25     
Men and women are quoted in the article                                1     
There are no quotes in the article                                           12     
The article doesn't focus on men or women/man or woman    19     
No named author                                                                    9     
No named quotes                                                                   5    

As you can see, over twice the number of articles are written by men. Nearly four times the number of articles focus on men rather than women. Men are illustrated over 3 times more than women. And the same number applies to quotes.

Proving that, on this day at least, men are being well represented by the New Statesman (and all the other news outlets) and women's problems, voices, faces and stories are, where they normally are - i.e. not very present.

Robert Taggart - take note.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Diamonds, dresses....but no directors?

There’s something very 1950s and 1960s about the coverage of the Cannes Film Festival this year. Whilst the men get down to the serious business of directing the films nominated for the awards, the women are busy looking gorgeous in expensive dresses and diamonds. Of course, there’s nothing new or strange in this attention to the dresses of the rich and famous – I for one am not immune to the appeal of these gorgeous frock concoctions. But I feel there is something retrogressive when in 2012 we are still looking at women in dresses, and listening to men about their directorial qualities. 

This year’s Cannes Film Awards have failed to nominate any women directors for an award (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/may/20/cannes-women-andrea-arnold-row?newsfeed=true). Meanwhile, a man who anally raped a child and subsequently has avoided justice for nearly 40 years is feted, celebrated and called a genius for what is basically an ad for Prada (http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/fashion-blog/2012/may/22/prada-roman-polanski-cannes?newsfeed=true). The lack of women represented was of course reflected in the Oscar director list – another awards ceremony that has managed to award eight gongs to said child rapist whilst only finding one in its collection to give to a woman director. 

Why is there still this blatant inequality when it comes to the representation of women in the film world? In fact, in the arts world full stop? The typical response to this question is the usual drone about how the films nominated for these awards are chosen on merit and that positive discrimination is a bad thing. But that isn’t what we’re arguing. It’s a total straw man to any debate on representation. No-one wants positive discrimination. Of course we want films to be judged on how good they are. We’re not stupid. 

But something is going wrong. The industry is steeped in inequality that means a fair playing field of what is ‘good’ and ‘worthy of merit’, and what isn’t, simply doesn’t exist. Merit is gendered. Greatness is gendered. The canon is gendered. Because despite the amount of good women-led films out there, none of them are considered to have ‘merit’ by what continues to be the male-dominated industry that is so sunnily encapsulated by Cannes.

In 65 years of Cannes, Jane Campion is the only woman to receive the Palme D’Or. Are men so much better at making films that this inequality makes sense? I don’t think so. 

Where do we start to unpick the gender bias that means women are so badly represented by an industry that millions of us love, and millions of us fund? I think we can begin with the fact that the film industry is so male-dominated. I believe that this leads to a climate where films that get the green light reflect male stories and male interests. A prejudice against women creators persists, the belief that whilst men are equipped to tell women’s stories (e.g. D H Lawrence in books, Tate Taylor – director of The Help – in films), women will always and only tell women’s stories. In English literature, for example, VS Naipul recently claimed that he is a better writer than all women writers ever – including Jane Austen – because men write about universal things, and women just write about the petty and domestic (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers - having read A House for Mr Biswas I disagree!). 

But this pigeon-holing of women’s creativity is nonsense. And of course, the film industry itself knows this is nonsense. Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was a man’s story about men, directed by a woman. And it’s brilliant. But this belief that women are ‘the other’, whilst men are universal is persistent and does, I believe, lead the industry to distrust women’s stories and women’s narratives. And this is something reflected across our entire culture, where ‘human’ is male and therefore the human experience is male. 

This prejudice neatly fits into another belief – that women are placidly happy to watch stories about men, where men do all the talking and all the action, whilst the ladies stay shh or are reflectors of the men’s ego. Meanwhile, the theory goes, men aren’t happy to watch films where we women get to have a go at speaking and having conversations. And because the industry’s assumed audience is male, and because male is seen as the universal, men’s films and men’s stories get made and get told. It’s the same again with literature – this belief that men won’t read books by women whereas women will read books by everyone. 

It’s such utter nonsense. 

Because as we well know, when a film does tell women’s stories or reflect women’s interests, it explodes and does well. Mamma Mia is one of the top earning films ever. I’ve not met anyone – man or woman – who doesn’t love Bridesmaids. 

And, as I say above, women are very good at telling men-focused stories. Wolf Hall? The Hurt Locker? Your gender doesn’t preclude you from being able to tell a story in another gender’s voice. But we live with this belief that it does…well, for women anyway. 

A further irritant is that even if it was true, and women’s stories were always concerned with ‘women-y things’, then so what? It shouldn’t matter, and the only reason it does matter is because the women’s experience is seen as ‘less’. I mean – it isn’t like male creators have a huge gamut of stories either. Coming of age here, war there, explosion-car-chase-monster over here. It is because we value men’s stories and culture more than women’s that we create this false dichotomy between what has ‘merit’ and what is ‘petty’ or small. 

The questions lie in how we decide what is great and good, and who is doing the deciding. To give another literature example, a lecture on Christina Rossetti during my university years always stays with me. In the 1960s, I learnt, there was only one edition of Christina Rossetti poetry. She was ‘woman-y’, she was ‘other’, and she wasn’t ‘great’. Then – feminism came along. Now there are dozens, she’s on the school syllabus and she is considered one of the leading Victorian poets. This clearly shows how our idea of what constitutes ‘great’ and ‘meriting recognition’ changes. Rossetti was just as marvellous a writer in 1965 as she was in 2005 when I had that lecture. But the canon only decided she was that good when perceptions on women’s writing and ‘herstory’ began to change. 

The future of our culture has to start including women – in film, books, arts and music. When we value women’s creativity, when we recognise that women can write the universal, and that women’s experiences are valid and matter, when we stop believing that men won’t watch or listen to women, and women can’t write men… then change will happen. We’ll have more films by women getting funding. We’ll stop thinking of women as a genre. And women’s work will be truly valued on merit, because women’s work will be truly valued. 

But what can we do? I feel like I’ve been writing this article over and over, with cultural femicide continuing and the straw man of ‘positive discrimination’ always raising its ugly head. 

Well, I try to represent women writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians. My activism started with Ladyfest – a celebration of women’s creativity. On 4th June I’m co-curating an event at the Cube (https://www.facebook.com/events/363818227009424/) that profiles women activists, artists and singers. I’ve edited a book that brought together women’s stories and published a book about the forgotten role of mothers in fiction (by Carrie Dunn: http://crookedribpublishing.wordpress.com/our-books/.) I buy women’s writing, I watch women’s films, I listen to women’s voices. The (soon to be re-named) Orange Prize, Bird’s Eye Film Festival, London Feminist Film Festival – all of these events celebrate how amazing we women are at being creative, at getting creative. 

So as well as a complaint against the sexism at Cannes, this is a rallying call. Let’s get out there. Let’s create. Let’s celebrate and profile women’s creativity. We need positive action to change these perceptions, and we can all play a role in doing that. What will you do? 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Ladyfest Bristol 2012

A proud veteran of Ladyfest Bristol 2007, I'm thrilled to be able to share with you the details of the forthcoming Ladyfest in our city - organised by some wonderful feminists.

See you there!

Early bird tickets go on sale April 15th for £20/standard tickets retail for £25


Bristol Ladyfest is a cultural festival running on 7th and 8th July, with a pre-party on 6th July. It’s designed to showcase women in the community who contribute a valid and significant amount of work to the art and entertainment industries. 

Profits from the event will be split between four charities, all of whom make an invaluable contribution to keeping the streets of Bristol safe:


Pre-party tickets: will retail on the door, for more information check out our FaceBook page

Early bird tickets: ending Tuesday, retail at £20 exclusively from DrunkenWerewolf

Weekend tickets: will retail at £25 from May 15th or if earlier when early birds run out. This will get you full access to all of Saturday and Sunday’s events. Please note that spaces at workshops will be limited and to ensure entry to popular events you must arrive at the venue early. Vendors will be announced in due course on our site.

Note all events are subject to change and Bristol Ladyfest does not take responsibility for artistic license.


Friday 6th July: LIPSTICK ON YOUR COLLAR pre-party @ Bristol County Sports Club, Colston Street


Sunday 8th July: various events across the Stokes Croft area from 10am, including
-          A screening of Dreams of a Life and other films at No 51
-          FGM’s Silent Scream, Naomi Smyth’s Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal and other documentaries with Q&A sessions at Art House
-          Workshops for safeguarding and understanding modern feminist issues
-          Classes on creative writing, music making and dancing
-          Exhibitions and zines by Rachael Dadd, Laura Kidd, Annie Gardiner and more
-          Open debate at The Canteen

Sunday 8th July (evening): WHAT THE FROCK presents: Women in Comedy, 

Rosie Wilby/ Elf Lyons/ Zahra Barri / O'Shea & Ogilvie.

We also have a fundraising event this Sunday 20th at Start the Bus, featuring The Jelas, Poppy Perezz, Morbison, Jemima Surrender, Stevie Parker and Big Wave. There will be discounted weekend tickets for sale there at £20.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Don't presume

I don’t watch Question Time anymore. I’ve got better things to do than to watch lots of often ignorant people being given a national platform to air often ignorant views. But I checked Twitter last night when I was reading my book (These Old Shades fact fans) and saw that the panel were indulging in some pretty disgusting victim blaming in terms of the Rochdale case that was sentenced the day before. Comments ranged from the ‘girl surrendering their innocence for a bag of crisps’ to how we need to give girls ‘values to keep themselves safe’ and the ridiculous suggestion that we should put a ‘curfew’ on girls (what happens if the rapist is at home ey? But don’t let facts get in the way of your victim blaming – oh no!). The people that no-one was talking about of course, were the perpetrators. The men who sexually exploited and raped those girls. You know, the men. Who chose to commit these crimes. 

I took to Twitter and wrote: 

Rape is caused by some men choosing to rape and abuse women and girls. That's what causes rape. That's what we need to talk about #bbcqt

There were a few re-tweets but then the responses came – responses where people helpfully informed me that men are survivors of rape too, and did I know that women can be perpetrators? I explained that I was tweeting in the context of the BBCQT discussion – especially in regards to the curfew comment. 

But the episode made me angry. Because I feel so strongly that the accusation was that because I care about violence against women and girls, and because I pointed out that the elephant in the room in the discussion about VAWG was the men who committed the crimes, then it meant I immediately didn’t care about men survivors or women perpetrators. That I’m ignorant, and that someone had better inform me pretty quickly and patronisingly of my ignorance. 

And so now I am going to tell you why that accusation is untrue, and why that patronising telling off is not only offensive, but potentially triggering.  

Like everyone in the UK, I know women who are survivors of rape and domestic abuse. I say ‘like everyone’, because 1 in 4 women experience this, so the chances are someone you know is a survivor. I also know men who are survivors of various forms of abuse and assault. A woman who I know very well was quite seriously sexually assaulted by a woman, and a woman friend of mine was in an abusive relationship with another woman. 

Finally, I have experienced two identical ‘unwanted sexual contact’ from a man and a woman. The incidents were exactly the same – I was pushed against the wall in a club and the other party stuck their tongue down my throat without my consent, before pushing me back and walking away. 

So for people who don’t know me, who know nothing about me, to have the gall to come over and tell me that men are survivors too and women are perpetrators too? How dare you? How dare you make the presumption that I don’t know this, that I don’t care about this, that I haven’t experienced this? How dare you? How dare you presume to know anything about my life or my experiences? What gives you the right to tell me what I do and don’t think, without even asking me if I know, if I’ve heard, if I’ve felt? 

There are two further points I want to make here. The first is that we need to take more care when we talk to each other online. We need to understand and respect context, so that when we start commenting back or accusing people, we know what they’re responding to in the first place. And we need to think more. Think about what that person might have experienced. Think about where they might have come from and consider whether our retort – perhaps witty or wise in our heads – could actually hurt, or trigger. I need to do this too. I’ve spoken out and regretted it later. We all need to try harder. 

But my final point is that I’m still not going to apologise for calling out the fact that the people who committed the crimes in Rochdale were men who chose to rape and sexually exploit girls. Because that’s what happened. And of the 80,000 rapes against women and girls in the UK every year, the one thing that the perpetrators have in common is that they are men who chose to rape. They didn’t have in common ethnicity. The common factor wasn’t that their victims behaved in certain ways, that they wore short skirts, or were outside, or inside, or drinking or wearing jeans. They are men who choose to rape. 

And speaking this truth that doesn’t mean I don’t care about male survivors. It doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about low reporting rates triggered by worries of homophobia, not being believed, being thought ‘unmanly’. Or that I don’t think we need a drastic re-assessment on ideas about masculinity to ensure that no survivor feels this way. It doesn’t mean I don’t find prison rape jokes abhorrent, or demand to know why rape in prison is so widespread. It doesn’t mean I don’t think men survivors need support and helplines and care. 

It doesn’t mean that I don’t count the woman in my list of ‘unwanted sexual contact’ incidents. 

But it does mean I understand that when we talk about rape culture and victim blaming, we’re overwhelmingly talking about male violence against women and girls. These are the crimes where we seek to lay blame on the victim and survivor, whilst the perpetrator is safely ignored. It’s when we talk about women that we demand curfews on our freedom, it’s women who are forced into a life of fear and it’s women who are blamed when violent crimes are committed against us. The fact that when we try and talk about this we are instantly made to talk about something else just shows all the more how we as a society are refusing to recognise that male violence against women and girls is endemic.

So next time you decide to take it upon yourself to explain to me that men are survivors too and women are perpetrators too, don’t. I know it. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Men who hate women

This is a quick post on the conviction of nine men jailed for raping, trafficking and sexually exploiting girls in Rochdale yesterday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/may/09/rochdale-gang-jailed-exploiting-girls?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

The nine men convicted yesterday of trafficking, raping and sexually exploiting girls as young as thirteen did not commit their crimes because they were Asian, as some parties or news outlets would have you assuming.

They committed their crimes because they were men who chose to traffic, rape and sexually exploit children.

Contrary to the reporting in the Guardian of judge’s statement yesterday, it wasn’t that in some cases "those girls were raped callously, viciously and violently".’
Because all rapes are vicious, callous and violent. 

These girls weren’t raped and sexually exploited because they had ‘chaotic lifestyles’ including being in care. They were abused because these men chose to abuse them. 

And these girls continued to be abused because when, four years ago, one of them came forward to the police to report the crimes she had suffered, she was deemed ‘unreliable’. The police and the CPS didn’t pursue the case. How many girls were harmed in the remaining four years? How many girls were harmed because the system refused to believe the testimony of a young, abused and traumatised girl? 

This case is not about ethnicity. This case is about the men who choose to abuse women and girls. Those men are identified not by the colour of their skin, the country they were born in, their class or job or status or family or wages or music taste. They’re identified by the fact that they are men who hate women, men who choose to exploit and harm and rape women and girls. 

We need to change the conversation when we talk about cases like this. We shouldn’t be talking about race for starters. We should be talking about how we live in a society where violence against women and girls is endemic, is increasing and is ignored. So far this year 3.3 women have been murdered every week as a result of violence against women and girls. Rates of domestic violence have increased since 2010 (http://eoin-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/domestic-violence-soars-25-in-first.html) and on average 80,000 women and girls are raped every year. 

These men raped and exploited these girls because they hate women. And because they could. And because, for so long, we let them.